Friday, November 30, 2012

Scotland v England: 140 years

"Business in the city being then as usual on Saturday afternoons, was almost entirely suspended in legal offices and commercial houses. There was great demand for locomotion to Partick, and the home of the West of Scotland Cricket Club."
30 November 1872. St Andrew's Day. Glasgow.

The birth of international football.

Scotland v England, 1872, the first international (Wikicommons)A 140 year journey that would bring us Pelé, Maradona, Puskás and Kirk Broadfoot.

The West of Scotland Cricket Club was hired for ten pounds. Over 3000 supporters turned out.

Scotland v England.

Challenge matches had been held before but all took place in England with the Scottish side drawn almost exclusively from Scots living in London, with both teams selected by the hosts.

The match in Glasgow was to be different.

With no SFA (such heady, heady days) the task of selecting the Scottish side fell to Bob Gardner, goalkeeper and captain of Queen's Park, the pre-eminent and all conquering team of the time.

Denied the services of a pair of highly rated Anglos, Arthur Kinnaird of The Wanderers and Henry Renny-Tailyour of Royal Engineers, Gardner stuck to what he knew.

The Scotland team was made up exclusively of players from Queen's Park:
"The Scotland team was Mr Gardner at the goal, Mr Ker and Mr Taylor at the back, and Mr Thomson and Mr Smith at half. Forward, Mr Leckie, Mr Rhind, Mr Weir, the other Mr Smith, Mr McKinnon and Mr Wotherspoon."
England, with players representing nine different clubs, didn't have the comfort of familiarity:
"Individual skill was generally on England's side, but the Southrons did not play to each as well as their opponents who seemed to be adept at passing the ball."
Jonathan Wilson writes:
"The spread of passing itself - that 'united action' - can be traced back to one game, football's first international, played between Scotland and England..."
From the Glasgow Herald:
"The Englishmen had all the advantage in respect of weight, their average being about two stones heavier than the Scotchmen, and they also had the advantage in pace. The strong point with the home club was that they played excellently well together."
Other contemporary accounts praise the dribbling exploits of players on both sides. It's likely that Scotland's 2-2-6 formation offered a better blend than England's 1-2-8.

It was Scotland's style that English teams would later attempt to emulate. The Scots, in the blue shirts of Queen's Park and red hoods, played a game that seemed innovative and pioneering.

Where did it all go wrong?

Whatever the tactics, England arrived as favourites but were held to a goalless draw with Scotland coming closest to scoring. A Robert Leckie shot hit the tape (there were no crossbars) in the second half, while a first half attempt was adjudged to have gone over the tape by the umpires.

Having hoped to cover their costs, the large crowd allowed Queen's Park to return a handsome profit.

The idea of international football seemed immediately amenable. It was also a catalyst for greater organisation of the game in Scotland.

In 1873 Queen's Park took the lead in forming an association of Scottish Clubs.

Billy McKinnon, a forward against England, scored the first goal as Queen's Park won the first Challenge Cup final in 1874. The first Scottish Cup final.

Within 18 months of the goalless draw at Hamilton Crescent the game had a structure that is recognisable today.

Clashes between Scotland and England remained on the calendar for over 100 years. It took until 1970 for the two teams to play out another 0-0 draw.

The fixture returns next year to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the English Football Association.

That, largely, is the only status this game can hope to attain in modern football. A historical curiosity, wheeled out on special occasions or when coincidence shines on an international draw.

A nice reminder of when were kings. We might never be again. But amid all the arguments, the bickering and the negativity, it's surely a heritage worth fighting for.


Brought to book

Book Week Scotland seems as good an excuse as any to have a rummage through the bookshelves.

To mark this celebration of all things book related, I shut my eyes and picked out four football tomes at random.

And a varied assortment it proved to be.

From Faultless referees in the Wankdorf, through sockless wonders of the 1980s and lawnmower related disasters, to a man who really, really disliked us Scots.

That's the thing about books. All human life lies within.

Refereeing Round the World by Arthur Ellis

We'll start with an Englishman. Or a Yorkshireman, which might not be quite the same thing.

Referee's memoirs are not a modern phenomenon. Before Pierluigi Collina and Graham Poll, there was Arthur Edward Ellis with Refereeing Round the World, published in 1954.

Arthur Ellis of Halifax seems to have been a have whistle, will travel kind of chap.

His career took in three World Cups, the Olympic Games and every round of the first ever European Cup.

He was also the referee for the Battle of Berne in 1954 when a football game struggled to breakout amidst a complete breakdown of Hungarian-Brazilian relations.

But his first taste of international football was a little closer to home:
"This was my first International as a referee - Wednesday, November 12th, 1947 - and what a ground to make your debut...Hampden Park, Glasgow! True, the attendance was no more than 100,000 people (the ground holds nearly 150,000 people), but all the same it was a terrifying experience.

"I had, of course, heard a lot about the Hampden Roar, but I had never sampled it, and Mr Faultless, that wonderfully named Scottish refereee, did not make my nerves any better by suggesting I use his whistle, which was of a higher tone than the usual whistle, and therefore better fitted to combat The Roar. I accepted his offer.

"If you think it strange that in an International do not take the field side by side, you should go to Hampden. They will have no such sentimental nonsense, as they call it. They believe in frightening the opposition with the pre-match ceremonies.

"And then there is the Hampden Roar. To me it seems to start as moan behind one goal and then, within seconds, to engulf the whole stadium. It is terrifying, indescribable. It is like taking a punch between the eyes."
Lost days and lost glories? Not quite:
"My experience of it lasted only 20 minutes. Then it fade, probably because Scotland were so bad that not even the Hampden Roar could help them."
Wales beat Scotland 2-1.

And Mr Faultless definitely did exist.

Giffnock's Charlie Faultless was, like Ellis, called into action for a memorable 1954 World Cup game.

His quarter final match at the Wankdorf Stadium (there's always a snigger) in Berne saw Austria beat Switzerland 7-5 and remains the highest scoring World Cup match in history.

Having trailed 3-0 inside 20 minutes, Austria led 5-4 at half time despite missing the penalty that Mr Faultless saw fit to award.

Charlie Nicholas: The Adventures of Champagne Charlie by David Stubbs

Younger readers might most readily associate Charlie Nicholas with Jeff Stelling and that rogues gallery of former players getting excited while the nation watches them watch telly every Saturday.

But back in the day it was Charlie who excited us with his goalscoring feats, his extravagant talent and his tabloid friendly extra-curricular pursuits.

His not always satisfying experience at Arsenal in the 1980s provides the focus for The Adventures of Champagne Charlie by David Stubbs.

It's commendably non-judgemental, choosing instead to salute Charlie's cheeky chappy joie de vivre.

Some choice quotes, however, suggest this was a lifestyle that many a modern manager would balk at.

Charlie on drinking:
"See, four, five, six pints. That to me isn't a real drink."
On Charlie's fashion sense:
"What seemed most to disconcert the authorities was Charlie's flagrant disregard for sockwear, the wearing of. One might have thought that with all the myriad problems besetting Scottish football at the beginning of the eighties that sock inspections would be low on most managers' list of priorities. But no. Charlie himself preferred to wear no socks - by necessity, he claimed, rather than affectation. 'I spend most of my money on clothes,' he explained. 'And that means going without socks in some casual outfits.'

"Socklessness being considered a breach of some arcane details of professional footballing etiquette, however, Charlie complained that he was forced to walk around with a spare pair of socks in case his assistant manager caught him at the club baring his ankles for shame - whereupon, if reprimanded, he would have to nip into the gents for a quick socks change."
Charlie and women:
"The more spurious the story, the more prominent was the accompanying photograph of Ms Bazar, all lipstick and bustiers. In 1988, the News of the World ran a series of her exposes on her nights out - and in - with her numerous and notable gentleman friends. She ranked them in order of impressiveness. And while the likes of Duran Duran's John Taylor and Herr Flick for TV's 'Allo, 'Allo merely received honourable mentions for the merits of their unmentionables, top of the Tree of Tumescence sat a proud Charlie."
It was George Graham who called time on Nicholas at Arsenal.

They won the League Cup together but the writing was surely on the wall from the moment Graham arrived as manager:
"Standards in British society are falling. I'm going to make sure, however, that they don't fall at Arsenal."
Patrician pomposity was always going to trump an often misfiring playboy prince.

It's for Graham to judge how successful he was in holding all his players to account off the field.

In the Firing Line by Jim Leighton and Ken Robertson

One wouldn't expect Jim Leighton to find himself linked to a Ms Bazaar in the tabloid press.

Bespectacled off the pitch and less than athletic looking on it he nonetheless enjoyed a career of longevity and consistency that included a battle back from the brink of obscurity.

In the Firing Line covers that career, from humble beginnings ("humble" actually appears in the second sentence) to European glory, the bitter Manchester United experience, the footballing resurrection and World Cups with Scotland.

There's also a touch of the Mr Bean about our hero.

Before the 1984 Scottish Cup final against Celtic:
"I can tell you now I came within a whisker of missing that final.

"In fact the accident that I was involved in on the Monday prior to that game could have ended my career. I was at home, cutting the grass and looking after our two children, when my electric lawnmower became choked with grass. I was trying to free the blades with my hand when my daughter Claire, who was then only three, moved the switch on the handle. Oddly enough, I'd been looking at a warning about disconnecting the lawnmower before cleaning it only seconds earlier. I'd ignored it and paid the price. When Claire accidentally put the power back on, a flying blade sliced open the pinkie of my right hand and there was blood everywhere. It could have been worse. I might have lost fingers and ended my days as a goalkeeper in that careless moment. But my injury was serious enough - especially with the final looming - and I was in a panic.

"[Alex Ferguson] called me all the silly buggers under the sun. I was told I should not have been cutting the grass or playing with my children in a cup-final week. When Ferguson's tirade subsided he told me to go home and stay away from Pittodrie during the build-up to Hampden.

"He was entitled to feel apprehensive, for Aberdeen is like a village in terms of gossip. I had ample proof of that over the next few days when my team-mates phoned to tell me about the wild stories which were circulating about my mishap. Rumours had it that I had lost a finger, cut off my hand or electrocuted myself. But the best best tale of all emanated from one of Gordon Strachan's neighbours. According to his information, I was dead."
Alive, and with a full complement of extremities, Jim played in Aberdeen's 2-1 win.

In 1986 Aberdeen were back in the final:
"I had another Scottish Cup final injury scare that season. This time it was because of my attempts to keep fit while recovering from a broken finger, which had ruled me out of Scotland's game against Romania at Hampden. I thought it would be a good idea to play tennis, as sport in which my damaged left hand would not be involved. That turned out to be a big mistake. I tripped over a stone and tore my ankle ligaments. With the final just four weeks away, I feared the worst. To compound the matter, I could not tell my manager that I had hurt myself playing tennis of all things. A white lie seemed the best bet, so I informed him that the injury had occurred while I was playing with my kids."
A reserve match at Ibrox confirmed that Jim would be fit to play in the final:
"Ferguson phoned my home on the night after my comeback in the reserves. Linda took the call and asked if he wanted to speak to me. 'No,' said the manager, 'just tell him that if he goes near that bloody grass this week, I'm going to kill him.' This was a reference to my previous mishap with the lawnmower. Ferguson has a very retentive memory."
Indeed. It's a hallmark of all the great managers that they remember the time their goalkeeper almost chopped his fingers off the week before a major cup final.

Sir Alf by Leo McKinstry

We'll finish with another Englishman. A World Cup winning Englishman.
O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
Well, we know how Sir Alf Ramsey saw us. And it wasn't entirely uncritical:
"Not since the Duke of Cumberland has any Englishman had a more visceral dislike of the Scots. So strong was this emotion that it broke through his wall of reserve and he became more demonstrative, more voluble.

"The great Derby defender Roy McFarland told me that Alf's passion had not waned by the seventies:

'For me it was the only time I heard him swear. Just before we went out on the field, as we were going out the door he'd say "Come on boys, let's beat these Scots fuckers." It was a shock to me.'

"John Connelly, the Burnley winger, has the memory of Alf's anger at any concession to Scotland:

'Once, when the ball ran out when we were playing at Hampden, I went and fetched it and threw it at a Scot. They took a quick throw, went down the line and damn near scored. Watching the film of this afterwards, Alf said to the rest of the lads, 'Just watch this pillock. What do you think of that, running after the fackin' ball for a fackin' Scotsman.'
When Ramsey took over at Birmingham City, a young Jimmy Calderwood was one of a number of Scots in the squad:
"Sir Alf said: 'Now I know you lot fucking hate me. Well, I have news for you. I fucking hate you lot even more.' But, you know, I never missed a game for him. He really was a fantastic manager."
Quite a complex fellow, was Sir Alf. What injury, real or perceived, we as race had inflicted on him is unknown. But this was a man who refused to wear Paisley pattern pyjamas.

He could admire our individual qualities though:
"Ken Jones tells this story of a banquet at Hampden after a game: 'I was there talking to Billy Bremner when Alf came past. He looked straight at Billy and said: "You're a dirty little bastard, aren't you. But by Christ you can play."' In return, Bremner was impressed by Alf as a manager when he served under him in a match between Wales and the rest of Britain."
Book Week Scotland runs until Sunday

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reconstruction: Home and away

European football is once again to be buffeted by the winds of change.

UEFA are considering dropping the Europa League and doubling the Champions League to accommodate 64 teams.

Nothing is final yet but a decision is likely to be made by 2014.

Having been treated by like a second rate tournament by its organisers - and some of its participants - the Europa League hasn't been as fiscally rewarding as the Champions League. Strange that.

And if you don't pay your way, modern football would prefer you to die quickly and with a minimum of fuss.

So the cash cow of the Champions League will become ever more lucratively bloated.

Don't hold your breath for a democratisation of access or wealth. European football will remain tilted towards the big clubs from the big leagues.

The idea of a European league, driven by an orchestrated breakaway led by the European Club Association, will again be shelved.

Even with UEFA's meddlesome involvement, the big clubs can get what they want out of the Champions League and periodic tantrums can be always used to force UEFA's hand on pressing issues.

The European League, a persuasive idea for many in Scotland, remains a concept more powerful in the abstract than reality: a fine stick to threaten UEFA with and a fine carrot to keep the "smaller big" clubs doing exactly what the "big big" clubs want.

But probably not something that the cabal of super clubs have any intention of pursuing in the immediate future.

What does all this mean for Scotland?

Scottish clubs would be competing for space in a 64 team tournament. This season five of our teams competed for places in two tournaments featuring 80 teams. Only one survived qualifying.

Our current strike rate suggests that few of our clubs would be bothering the business end of an expanded Champions League any time soon.

You never know though, losing in the qualifying rounds might become a more lucrative hobby.

In the meantime we have our own restructuring debate to monitor.

How's that going?

The SFL have a draft set of proposals that sees the top flight expanded and the SPL disbanded.

The SPL have a counter set of proposals that sees the SPL gain 12 more teams in an extra division and an extraordinarily daft sounding three way split into three leagues of eight after 22 games.

So the SFL want the SPL to bugger off and the SPL want to not only stick around but expand into two leagues for a bit of the season and three leagues for another bit of the season.

These approaches to reconstruction do not immediately suggest that the SPL and the SFA are singing from the same hymn sheet. Or that they're even in the same church.

That means it's time for the SFA to play a role: cajoling, brokering, soothing, arse kicking.

To this end the governing body's Professional Game Board released a statement yesterday:

"The Scottish FA’s Professional Game Board met at Hampden Park today to hear and discuss proposals on league reconstruction made by the Scottish Premier League and the Scottish Football League.

"The PGB is encouraged by the common ground established on many issues in what is an emotive subject.

"The respective league bodies will now hold further discussions with their member clubs, in the hope that this common ground can be expanded upon within each proposal.

"The next meeting of the PGB is scheduled for January 30, 2013. However, it has offered to reconvene earlier to expedite the process once the bodies have held further talks with their members."

Which, from this vantage point, looks like another fine example of the SFA's mealy-mouthed dithering.

Given their headline differences on the big issues it's unclear what common ground the SPL and SFL might have found.

To drag the restructuring debate on until no sane person could reasonably be expected to care? Possibly.

Mutual loathing? Maybe.

A shared desire to make the SFA look as weak as possible. Perhaps.

We're left with two organisations at odds with each other and a governing body with the inspirational leadership qualities of a burst balloon.

If you were looking for a structure that would produce the most directionless governance for your sport, you could do far worse than mimic Hampden's tripartite travesty.

And so the debate drags on, each side trying to promote their vested interests, each saying they'll do the best for the fans while trying to avoid giving the fans any voice in the debate.

In that respect Scottish football's reconstruction shenanigans are pretty much like a low budget version of UEFA's blockbuster.

The difference is likely to be the pace of change.

By the time four or five Scottish clubs are getting emptied from the qualifiers of a 64 team Champions League, the bitter status quo will probably still reign supreme in Scotland.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Rangers: A hollow win

Whatever else it’s done, Rangers new life in Division Three hasn’t dented their ability to command column inches.

This week it was the results of the First Tier Tribunal that dominated the media, old and new.

The findings have been pored over. Lines have been read between to prove what the reader believes to be true.

Only one thing really matters though. The majority opinion found in the oldco Rangers company's favour.

Vindication for Sir David Murray and those involved with the controversial EBT scheme. A victory for the fans to celebrate over those who will now forever be framed as "enemies" of the club.

Those enemies include a vindictive tax authority - although the findings of the the FTT at no point accuse HMRC of indulging in frippery in their pursuit of Murray’s Rangers - and all those in the mainstream media and online who pre-judged the club as guilty and demanded the death penalty.

Confession time. I was named on a Rangers forum this week as one who should be issuing an apology. Strange company for me to keep, being included (admittedly at the bottom) in a list that included Neil Lennon, Alex Thomson and, somewhat oddly, Andreas Hinkel.

Another confession. I’m not going to apologise.

What I take to be the offensive passage from Valentine's Day 2012:

"Yet Rangers are where they are - and yesterday's developments do little more than nudge us closer to knowing where that might be - through financial mismanagement. 
"It might also be, and we're approaching a legal decision about this, that they are where they are on account of a gargantuan theft against the state. 
"These are things that should be punished. 
"A theft against football as well. Our football. Championships have been won that Rangers couldn't afford. Talents have been taken from other teams - although we must concede that those other teams have enjoyed the financial benefits - that Rangers couldn't afford. 
"That's cheating. Doping the game. Financial doping. Doping is cheating. We've all suffered. 
"But as Rangers falsely speculated, others in the league often accumulated. Football can send us down a cul-de-sac where moral absolutes are hard to find. 
"Let's finger David Murray and his cohorts as guilty. We can, at the very least, sentence them on the charge of gross mismanagement."

You'll note, I hope, that I didn't prejudge the outcome of the FTT - although my language might have been overly dramatic.

I think, and I've embarked on a somewhat egotistical trawl of my own archives, I was always careful not to make a premature decision on behalf of the three tribunal judges.

Yet I wrote the line: "That's cheating. Doping the game. Financial doping. Doping is cheating. We've all suffered."

How could I have written that when, according to the narrative adopted by many this week, Sir David Murray is once more above reproach and the FTT decision clears the Rangers he presided over of any wrongdoing?

Maybe that comes back to football's lack of moral absolutes.

Financial doping, noun,


1) the situation in which a sports franchise borrows heavily in order to contract and pay high-performing players, jeopardizing their long-term financial future

2) the situation in which the owner of a sports franchise invests his or her own personal wealth into securing high-performing players, rather than relying on the revenue the franchise is able to generate for itself
Was Sir David Murray - along with other owners and directors in Scottish football - guilty of any of that during his tenure at Ibrox?

I'd suspect so.

Was he guilty of the kind of financial management described by Alan Keen MP in 2009?

"Lack of proper governance and financial instability are the two fundamental vulnerabilities to the success that English football has enjoyed in recent times. 
"Our report includes tough measures to improve the way the game is run and to combat 'financial doping' whereby short-term success can be bought at the expense of long-term financial stability."

I'd say he was.

Did Murray's business style at Ibrox fit Michel Platini's description of certain types of football governance representing a "serious challenge to the idea of fair play and the concept of financial balance in our competitions."

I'd say so.

None of this is against the rules, of course, and I fear that any rules that Platini's UEFA introduce on financial fair play will have the all effectiveness of a chocolate fireguard. Nor was Sir David Murray the only club owner in Scotland to indulge in such practices.

For a romantic old lefty like me though, it's an approach that doesn't fit with the spirit of the game. An approach that cheats the game of the fundamental requirements of fairness,

Others disagree. It was Murray's money to spend as he liked, Murray's club to fund as he saw fit and, as former Ibrox chairman Alistair Johnson said in September this year,:

"What is clear is that 'financial doping' is not and could never be construed as describing a situation where a club extends its credit facilities with a recognised financial institution."

Let the free market rule in football as everywhere else. Which is fair enough, although it also means that clubs and their supporters will sound hollow if they demand special treatment when they become the subject of investigations by the taxman.

In the case of the Murray era Rangers I think this week's decision has been used to fuel revisionism.

While it's true that he'd worked to lower the debt the club had amassed he failed to reach a stage where he was free from the attentions of the bank or able to find a legitimate buyer for the club.

Some bad luck played a part: Murray's Rangers helped create a new architecture for the European game that eventually left smaller leagues like Scotland in its wake. The game didn't offer the potential for earnings to reward a high risk business plan.

He also fell foul of the financial collapse that left the bank twitchy and, because this high risk strategy extended to other colonies in his personal empire, left him diminished as owner-protector of Ibrox in the eyes of those same banks whose own disasters cost him millions.

In speculating to accumulate at Ibrox, Murray sowed some very destructive seeds.

Enter HMRC - with their legitimate but ultimately failed investigation - and the stage was set for Craig Whyte, that evil caricature of a saviour.

The victims of all this were the Rangers fans. It's disrespectful to them for Sir David Murray's supporters to paint him as the wronged party in a nightmare that he co-authored.

There is a wider point here about the governance of football in Scotland.

I've written many times about how we gauge the successes and failures of our game with too much reference to the English game.

Our game is a very different beast. And our clubs must be managed differently.

We need to look at different models of ownership, different ways of delivering sustainability.

The Murray-model - and you can add in the Romanov-model and the Brooks Mileson-model - took no cognisance of that.

That's fine when the trophies roll in and the good times swing. But it's destructive when things turn sour.

It's a business model that disenfranchises the fans as stakeholders and turns them into anonymous consumers of big business.

The bigger the risks taken by the owners, the bigger the implosion will be if and when it comes.

And the more powerless the fans will be to step in and clear up the mess.

Where did a business model he no longer wanted to support and a tax investigation he wanted to fight but couldn't be sure of winning leave Sir David Murray?

It left him taking a quid and a fantasy from Craig Whyte. That meant the FTT win would forever be condemned to a Pyrrhic victory an nothing more.

There has to be a different way.

In the case of Rangers there has to be way of returning them to the top of the game that doesn't wrack up huge debts or lead to an end point where fans are celebrating the legality of a method of making overpaid players richer and a Labour MP is criticising HMRC for pursuing a case against a company working a system of aggressive tax avoidance.

The people's game indeed.

Last week I wrote about Hearts:

"Hearts aren't finished.

"We can only hope that the era of men like Vladimir Romanov soon will be."

For Hearts read Rangers, for Vladimir Romanov read Sir David Murray.

The prospect of an HMRC appeal remains. The findings of the SPL's inquiry into Rangers will be delivered in the New Year. There are growing calls to punish those who leaked information regarding the tax investigation to media outlets and the now disappeared Rangers Tax Case blog.

This story has not yet run its course. And Sir David Murray will remain in the public eye, unlikely to surrender his opinion of his own innocence.

But at every club we should be writing a new chapter, no longer in thrall to the dreams of unlikely profits propagated by false prophets.

Demanding a new start for a sustainable future.

If we don't, we'll be cheating ourselves out of the game we love.